Born in a barn in 1909, Leo Fender seems an unlikely father of rock ’n’ roll. But as the man whose company perfected the solid-body electric guitar, his contribution to contemporary music cannot be overstated. Just take a look at the albums whose musicians thought enough of their Fender guitar to put it on the cover: Eric Clapton’s "Layla," Bruce Springsteen’s "Born To Run," Jeff Beck’s "Wired," The Pretenders’s (Chrissie Hynde) "Get Close," Bonnie Raitt’s "Nick of Time." The list of influential artists who play a Fender is just about endless.
Fender’s first solid-body electric guitar was introduced in 1950. It debuted as the one-pickup Esquire before the name of the two-pickup model was changed to Broadcaster. But Gretsch was already using the name Broadkaster on some of its instruments, so the name was changed again.
Between names, the company made the most of its remaining Fender Broadcaster decals by cutting off the word Broadcaster so that only the Fender brand made it onto the guitar’s headstock. Today, collectors call these guitars Nocasters. Only about 60 Nocasters were made, which makes them extremely collectible, but by April of 1951 the guitar would finally get a name that would stick, the Telecaster.
The Stratocaster came next in 1954. Unlike the Telecaster, whose ash body was outlined with rib-digging 45-degree edges, the Strat had a sculpted body that fit players like a glove. Three pickups gave the instrument unprecedented tonal range, as did a vibrato bar that would bend the guitar’s strings when pressed. And instead of the Telecaster’s blond, natural-wood finish, the Strat was offered in a number of colors, including the iconic sunburst (golden-yellow in the middle fading to black on the outside).
Solid-body electric bass guitars were also a Fender innovation. The Precision bass was introduced in 1951. It had a headstock that was virtually identical to that of the Telecaster and a body that turned out to be a preview of the 1954 Strat. By 1957, the Precision’s headstock had been redesigned to mirror the Stratocaster’s, and that version of the bass remains largely unchanged today. The Jazz Bass was added to the low-octave lineup in 1960, and a six-string bass was offered in 1961.
Fender launched two other major guitar lines in the 1950s. The first of these was a pair of low-cost models, the Duo-Sonic and the Musicmaster, both of which were introduced in 1956. These guitars were for kids who wanted to learn how to play without having to shell out the big bucks for a Stratocaster ($274.50 for a Strat versus $119.50 for a Musicmaster). The other initiative was a high-end guitar called the Jazzmaster, which retailed at the time for $329.50. It had a rosewood fingerboard on the standard maple neck, and switches that let the guitarist bounce between rhythm and lead sounds.
In 1962, Fender introduced the Jaguar, which combined a Jazzmaster body with a Stratocaster head. The Mustang, an update of the Duo-Sonic, was added in 1964. Years later, Nirvana...
But the 1960s are best known as the decade when Jimi Hendrix did things to his Stratocaster that nobody had thought possible, from setting it on fire to playing wailing, psychedelic versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Alas for Fender, it was also the decade that the company was sold to CBS—for Fender purists, the years 1965 to 1985 are like a 20-year musical drought.
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Megan Slankard takes a classic rock routeStockton Record, October 16th
“I've kinda started on electric guitar. It's actually softer on the fingers than some of my old acoustic guitars. ... Now, I've got a beautiful (Fender) American Telecaster.” She meshes that sound with guitarist James DePrato of Richmond; drummer Kyle...Read more
Does the new Apple iPad look familiar? That's not a coincidenceThe Guardian (blog), October 16th
A vintage poster for Kit Kat, manufactured by Rowntree's. ... Perhaps the Platonic form of the guitar, the Fender Stratocaster was first popularised by Buddy Holly, and later Eric Clapton – who had one covered in gold leaf – and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour...Read more
U2 Signature Bass GuitarSonic State, October 16th
Fender's Adam Clayton Jazz Bass guitar puts his rock solid sound and style in bassists' hands, with elegant appointments and elemental tone, including two potent Fender Custom Shop pickups and a beautiful Sherwood Green Metallic gloss finish with ... 9...Read more
Rig Rundown: Against Me!Premier Guitar, October 15th
Laura's signal starts with an old school 1/4" cable running from her guitar to a Boss TU3. The signal then hits an MXR EVH Phase 90, EarthQuaker Devices Black Eye, and a Blackstone Appliances Mosfet Overdrive. From there it runs into a Reuss Musical ...Read more
The Beatles: One of John Lennon's guitars to fetch £600000 at auctionAnglotopia.net, October 13th
He told the story of how he got it: “Upstairs in John's house in Weybridge he had his den and music room, it was full of tape decks, keyboards, guitars etc. The two guitars I remember were the Blue Fender Stratocaster [the one John used for "Nowhere...Read more
Marty Stuart and the gospel of countryU-T San Diego, October 9th
He is also such a good friend of gospel-music legend Mavis Staples, who is featured on his new album, that she gave him a vintage Fender Stratocaster guitar that belonged to her late father, the even more legendary Pops Staples. Stuart plays it on...Read more
Joe Bonamassa's 5 Most Underrated AmpsPremier Guitar, September 23rd
From the rows and rows of Fender combos to a few vintage Marshall stacks, Bonamassa doesn't discriminate—if it's a benchmark for a great guitar tone, he has one (or seven). “I love talking about amps. It's so much better than talking about other stuff...Read more
Auction action: A 1960 guitar with a DC- area history fetches a pretty pennyWashington Post, September 21st
Lots of people figured the 54-year-old Gibson Les Paul electric guitar would fetch more than its $20,000 to $30,000 pre-auction estimate, but no one knew how much more. The answer: a lot. Two Saturdays ago, Gil Southworth Jr. paid $140,000 for the...Read more